I am ashamed of many things in my life, but admitting I’ve been suffering from anxiety and depression disorders is not one of them. Not anymore. I used to believe that I was an anomaly, but it took some heavenly spark of optimism from others to make me realize I was not different. There were three people who made it possible for me to live to tell the tale. For confidentiality purposes, their names are masked as Courage, Hope and Strength.
The first is Courage. She has been a friend of mine since our first year in high school and is one of the bravest women I know. Being a new student that year didn’t stop her from expressing herself. I envied that about her. We were both editors at our high school newspaper and I admired her passion for writing and poetry. What drew us closer together was when I found out she was also battling depression. We both saw each other’s demise just from the look in our eyes. When you’ve felt the grip of depression, it’s easy to set apart the sad people from the crowd. It was always the same hollow, lifeless looks, the bowed heads and the aching twitches of their mouths when they tried to smile or keep themselves from crying. Even when I knew she was hurting, she talked to me when I was alone and gave me big bear hugs. She helped set a fire for me so I could see my way back even if it was temporary.
The second is Hope. I’ve known her for many years and she has been a trusted friend but we connect more through social media. We strike conversations on Twitter or Facebook which would last for hours in the middle of the night. She possesses the sincerity and humility of one that effectively brings out the best in people. In a significant time when I almost came to self-harm, I saw that she left more than a few kind words for me on Facebook as a reply to a letter I gave her. She wasn’t a depressive like Courage and me, but she understood. She didn’t exactly know what to say, but just listening was worth any kind of response. Her enthusiasm and curiosity about the world gave me hope like no other.
The third is Strength. She is one of my most cherished friends. Three years of knowing each other already feels like a lifetime. If I were to rank these three, Strength is the first and her presence at a suicide attempt proved that. When I was confined in hospital, she stayed for hours even if she had school the next day. She sent me flowers and get-well-soon cards, but most of all she sent me her love. She has seen me at my best and worst, and yet she’s still here. She stayed with me and listened to me, never judged me, and never made me feel so alone. It wasn’t just in my utmost time of need. In her little cat-littered home, we’d go as deep as if we were still stardust and as shallow as skimming pebbles on a pond. My family taught me how to open my heart, but she’s the one who made me do so, and that takes a truly one-of-a-kind strength to do.
Whenever someone asks me what it’s like to be depressed, I go blank because I keep thinking about how I’m going to describe it in a way that profoundly portrays it. So I say living with depression and anxiety feels like dying on a daily basis. I wish it’s an exaggeration, but it’s not. Perhaps nothing besides death can ever be at par with what it truly feels like. The seed of mental illness peeks into your depths and destroys you from there until the surface of your skin. It becomes very difficult to think about a possible resolution or to convince yourself that there’s something better coming—and that is but a mere glimpse at it.
It may not be an obvious threat such as AIDS or cancer, but it is just as serious. Mental illness is inclusive as everyone has a red laser pointed at their heads. As Robin Williams’ death proves, someone’s level of success, rate of income, sexuality, race and social status don’t matter as much. I’m just a common girl living on an average income, and the sniper has shot me.
Amidst those trials, it is simply the kindness of people that is keeping me alive now. I’m grateful that I have been luckier than most: that I can afford treatment, that I have a supportive family, and that I have friends who care. Lucky or not, it all boils down to one thing: The world needs more people like Courage, Hope and Strength.
For the people reading this piece who are battling anxiety and depression, it is not too late. There is always hope even if you believe there is none. There are people who are willing to help you—friends, family, counselors, teachers, etc. Let them in. For those who don’t have friends or family to confide in, there is always someone who is struggling with you. Find them. Visit forums specific to your disorder or illness in general in the Internet.
I know it’s hard, and it took a long time for me to do it, but being willing to open up about your struggles is a grand step to recovery. It’s difficult to recognize love even if it’s right in front of you, but give yourself some time. It’s a cliché but it’s true that time is a good healer. Give yourself a break when you know you need it. One day, you’ll feel the blessing of being alive because no one is ever beyond saving.
For the people reading this who know people who have or show signs of certain mental illnesses, whether they be a dear loved one, a classmate, a student, a coworker, a friend, be patient with us. Listen to us because we need to get things off our chest and we want our words to matter. Hold us because we need to feel the warmth and energy of life that we’ve been deprived of feeling. Help us even if it seems like we don’t want it because we’re not always brave enough to ask for it. Understand what we’re going through and try to put yourself in our shoes, because we need someone who truly cares. You don’t have to act like you know how we really feel like, or say things such as “I know how that feels like” when you know you really don’t. Simply being there is enough.
As Stephen Fry said, “It is not easy being a friend to a depressive, but it’s one of the kindest, noblest, best things you will ever do.” Open your heart and your mind. Before we become brave, we must be kind.
Khriscielle Yalao, 17, is a psychology freshman at Miriam College.
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